MISTYS TOP TIPS FOR IMMUNE RESILIENCE
Updated: Mar 3
Summer is officially over, my friends. Autumn is here and with it comes cooler temperatures and the arrival of the cold and flu season. Of course , the elephant in the room is also the emergence of the Covid -19 virus, which in all likelihood may also be a part of the seasonal ills landscape this season. That said, no matter the illness that abounds at the time - the best way to resist infection, or at least to minimise the effects of an infection is to ensure a healthy and robust immune response. These are my top tips, as a herbalist and nutritionist, to keep your immune system resilient during the coming winter months and beyond.
KEEP STRESS UNDER CONTROL
Try not to panic. Although its empowering to be prepared for a potential community outbreak of illness, it is not so great to trawl news sites incessantly looking for doom and gloom, especially if you are prone to anxiety. In fact chronic stress is associated with lowered immune function and increased susceptibility to infectious agents including bacterial and viral infections (Glaser and Kiecolt-Glaser 2005). There is also a long known link between chronic stress and reduced host defence to that other coronavirus - the common cold (Cohen 1991) My best tips to keep worry in check, at this time ( alongside being nourished and safe) are these - regular exercise, healthy trusting relationships, using CBT techniques ( this short article is a perfect place to start http://cogbtherapy.com/cbt-blog/5-steps-to-stop-worrying) meditation, mindfulness and keeping a journal - sometimes when you write it down it helps put things into perspective. If worry really is your best friend then maybe think about taking some herbs which have a calming effect on the nervous system - kava, passionflower, skullcap, chamomile, vervain or the calming adaptogens such as ashwagandha and reishi. And if it makes you feel better and more empowered - go and get your two week emergency pack organised. ( just don't stockpile ALL the toilet paper, I'm not too keen on using leaves - but will if I have to!) .
NOURISH YOUR BODY
You get out what you put in really is a great saying in reference to diet and immune function. A good nourishing diet provides the macro and micronutrients required for optimal functioning of the immune system. So what does a good diet look like? It can look different to everyone but the mainstays in my opinion are a decent amount of protein, unrefined carbohydrates providing a bunch of fibre, healthy fats and however many veges you are eating right now -double it. A good diet takes planning and consistency but with a little thought should provide all the nutrition you need. There are a few micronutrients which are always mentioned in reference to immunity – vitamins A, C E and D and also the minerals zinc and iron. They are readily available in the food chain but if you think you may be lacking why not try some food based sources such as molasses, nettles, blackcurrants, acerola, mushrooms, spirulina and other seaweeds, cod liver oil. Making dietary and lifestyle changes and including more nutritious foods is always more effective than popping synthetic lab made supplements. Please note – iron deficiency can be serious and have very detrimental actions on immune function – in this case dietary and supplemental interventions will likely be necessary
KEEP YOUR GUT FLORA HAPPY
Yes, you have heard it before and I will say it again - 80% of the immune system is in the gut. So you have to make sure that your gut is healthy and that means healthy gut flora . Why? Beneficial gut flora helps to train immune cells to make sure they are competent. They also reduce inflammation in the gut and produce SCFA which nourish the gut lining. Those good gut bacteria also eat up all the available food and take up all the space on the gut lining meaning that the bad gut buggers cant set up shop. So yes - good gut flora is not only important for gut immunity but also for systemic immune function. The best way to support good gut flora is to provide prebiotic fibres ( think legume, wholegrains and yes mushrooms!) and increase your vegetable intake especially those cruciferous ones - broccoli, cauli etc. Studies show that increasing plant matter in the diet and reducing animal products potentiates a beneficial change in gut microbiota ( Tomova 2019). Doesn't hurt to have some more fermented foods in your diet as well - I am partial to kombucha but give sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and miso a whirl.
DIG INTO THE HERBS AND SPICES
Not only do herbs and spices make food taste good, many of them contain phytochemicals which have strong antimicrobial, digestive, respiratory and immune actions. You can literally add a bunch of herbs and spices into any savoury dish or into your smoothies as well. Here is my pick of the bunch:
Thyme - strong antimicrobial/antiviral, antitussive, antispasmodic and expectorant actions
Oregano - strong antimicrobial/antifungal with antioxidant actions
Rosemary- antimicrobial, antioxidant and immune stimulant
Garlic & Onions- antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and supports liver health
Cayenne - antimicrobial, pain relieving, stimulates secretions
Ginger- antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, circulatory stimulant,
Cloves - antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic
Turmeric - antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, liver support, gut health immune stimulant
Cinnamon- antimicrobial, immune stimulant, circulatory stimulant
SPICY ACV A really great way to get all the benefits of a whole bunch of herb is to make a spicy infused vinegar - just add chopped garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne into a large jar and cover with apple cider vinegar . Leave it steeping for a week or so and sieve out then have a shot daily! If that doesn't kill bugs then nothing will!
GET ADEQUATE SLEEP
If you have not had the pleasure of reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I suggest you put it on your reading list immediately. Sleep is a non negotiable both for general wellbeing and for the health of the immune system. Studies show that sleep deprivation not only makes you grumpy but also promotes low grade inflammation and severely suppresses immune function ( Besedovsky et al 2012). Making sure you have as close to eight hours sleep a night is integral for a healthy immune system. Here are Matthew Walkers top 12 tips for a healthy nights sleep-
1. Stick to a sleep schedule Go to bed and wake at the same time every damn day
2. Don’t exercise too late in the day as it can overstimulate
3. Avoid caffeine & nicotine after midday
4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed as it messes up your sleep quality
5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night as it can
6. Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep (where possible)
7. Don’t nap after 3pm
8. Make sure to leave time to relax before bed
9. Take a hot bath before bed as it drops body temperature and relaxes
10. Have a dark, cool, gadget free bedroom
11. Get sunlight exposure for at least 30 minutes a day ( without sunglasses)
12. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep - get up and do something relaxing until sleepy And if you want a relaxing drink try a chamomile tea or maybe a Moon Potion (which also has the added immune benefits of reishi and ashwagandha ) . DRINK SOME BLOODY WATER!
I just thought I would pop this in here because we all need a reminder at times. Will it help your immune system? There aren't really any studies to show that dehydration means lowered immunity ( and I am still alive soooo) but it sure cant hurt. From my perspective I think increased hydration equals increased blood filtration through the kidneys , improved lymph flow which means helping to wash away metabolic and immune detritus and most importantly it also means supple, moisture filled mucus membranes. Dry mucosa are more likely to allow bacteria and viruses to attach and take hold so keeping those mucosa healthy is pretty darn important. If you find it difficult to drink water then maybe try herbal tea, water with lemon or chuck in some chlorophyll.
GET SOME SUNSHINE
Vitamin D is shown to be play an essential role in both the innate and adaptive immune system function. This means it is essential for helping the immune system to identify and kill microbes while also involved in helping the immune cells to make antibodies should that microbe make another appearance ( Martineau 2009) . In fact immune deficiency and autoimmunity has consistently been associated with vitamin D deficiency. As your body makes vitamin D in response to UV exposure, getting some healthy exposure to sunlight is very important. Another great way to get vitamin D in your diet is by sunbathing your mushrooms before you eat them! Mushrooms contain pro vitamin D which when exposed to UV light, make vitamin D2, D3 and D4. Studies show that mushroom vitamin D has the same action within the body as both fortified foods and supplements. It is also important to note that large doses of vitamin D, do not appear to be as effective for immune health as do moderate doses long term ( Comargo 2019)
GET INTO THE MUSHROOMS
All mushrooms contain immune modulating beta glucans which increase host immune defense by activating complement system, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function ( Akramiene 2007) . This means that they increase immune surveillance to identify, tag and kill microbes to prevent illness before it takes hold. They also act as preferential food for beneficial probiotics thus supporting a healthy gut and systemic immune system. You can get the benefits of beta glucans from all culinary mushrooms but choose shiitakes if you can as they have documented antiviral actions ( Kuroki 2018) . Although all mushrooms are food for the immune system, there are four functional mushrooms which in my opinion are the best options for immune support.
Chaga - Chaga contains immune modulating beta glucans alongside anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial triterpene compounds. Chaga has tradtionally been used for the prevention and treatment of viral illness in North Eastern Europe and is shown to have antiviral actions ( Pan et al 2013)
Reishi With a very long history of use in Traditional Chinese medicine for many indications, reishi has carved its place as an immune mushrooms. It has potent antiviral actions against a whole raft of viral microbes including those that cause seasonal influenza ( Zhu et al 2015) Reishi is also shown in a Cochrane review to help to restore immune function after immune suppressing therapies, suggesting that reishi may be of benefit for supporting immune competence after viral illness ( alongside astragalus)
Cordyceps Another favourite mushroom of mine is cordyceps . With a long traditional history of use for respiratory and lung health, it is a good option for flu season ( Panda et al 2011) . Cordyceps increases the bodies sniper cells (NK cells) and macrophages which eat microbes and enhances the action of cytokines which both directly kill microbes and also act as signals to rally more immune cells ( Jang et al 2016) In addition in animal studies cordyceps is shown to reduce inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs and to enhance oxygen transfer ( Chan 2012)
WHAT ABOUT OTHER HERBS?
There are numerous other herbs which are seen as immune system tonics. These herbs are considered to have more supportive preventative actions rather than an acute treatment actions such as antitussive, expectorant, antiseptic . The following herbs have immune modulating actions or nutritive actions and are intended to be taken in small doses over extended periods of time for the best long term actions. These herbs include - astragalus, he shou wu, nettle, ashwagandha, eleuthero, Korean ginseng, rhodiola, codonopsis and holy basil.
Life is for living. We are lucky enough to live in a country that has clean air and water, good food and access to first world medical care. We can’t tell the future but what we can do is to stop thinking that the worlds media can tell the future. All media is produced with sensation, reach and likes in mind. Don’t believe the hype as our friend Flava Flav decried, lets just wait and see how this plays out. That said being prepared never hurt anyone so fortify your body by doing the things you should be doing every day anyway – consuming good food and good information, being hydrated, being a good human being and enjoying the life you have . Oh and eat mushrooms too.
Chen, Mengli & Cheung, Florence & Chan, Ming & Hui, Pak & Ip, Siu-Po & Ling, Yick & Che, Chun-Tao & Liu, Wing. (2012). Protective roles of Cordyceps on lung fibrosis in cellular and rat models. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 143. 448-54. 10.1016/j.jep.2012.06.033.
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